Come Away!

The following is a guest post by Hope O’Keeffe, supervisory attorney-advisor in the Office of the General Counsel at the Library of Congress.

LC copy of Come Away!

You never know when you’ll change someone’s life.

Laura Hulse at 78, courtesy Hulse family

In third grade, I spent an afternoon visiting Great Aunt Mill’s friend Laura Hulse, a real poet with the most books I’d ever seen outside a library! Miss Hulse gave me tea and cookies, patiently listened to me reciting the poems I’d written, and talked to me about being a writer. When I left, she gave me two children’s books, which I read over and over again. One of them was Margaret Cabell Self’s 1948 Come Away!, about a misfit boy, his invisible leprechaun friend, and a horse. The other was Carroll Trowbridge Cooney’s 1942 A Green Field for Courage, about an imaginative boy and his toy soldiers.

One attraction of Come Away! (besides the fact that leprechaun friends are handy to keep around) was its epigraph: Yeats’ “The Stolen Child,” with the refrain “Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” It was the first poem I ever fell in love with (twist my arm and I can still recite it for you).

Years later, after my grandmother died, I found her copy—marked “To Gladys, With Love”—of Random Rhymes, the book of poetry that Miss Hulse finally published at 90. It made me realize that the whole visit was a setup: my grandmother knew of my dreams of being a writer, and arranged an inspirational encounter through her sister.

Laura Hulse by Judith Hulse Phakos

I never saw Miss Hulse again, but that magical visit, her kindness, and my grandmother’s plotting with Aunt Mill set me on the path to bibliophilia and the Library. The biographical afterword to Random Rhymes describes Miss Hulse’s house perfectly: “Bookcases were constantly being built. . . . Then, if you are visiting, a book is offered, always one you want.” It’s a wonderful model to live by.

Somewhere along the line, in the course of our many moves, my mother tossed Come Away! and A Green Field for Courage. They long ago went out of print, and in those pre-online days I never could find a copy. One of the first things I did when I joined the Library of Congress staff was to look them up in the catalog. I suspect no one had checked out Come Away! or A Green Field for Courage in the past half-century. But there they were, a piece of childhood, preserved in the Library’s storage modules for all these years. I even passed an otherwise forgotten book along to a new generation: my toy-soldier-obsessed son Jeffrey wrote a book report about A Green Field for Courage.

Contrary to popular expectation, the Library doesn’t have all the books ever published—but we do have an astounding number of them. Who needs invisible leprechauns or tempting fairies when you’re around all the books and poetry you could possibly want?

12 Comments

  1. A Nikhwai
    March 22, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Such a wonderful story. Short but meaningful. Books are your best friends no matter how old they are or you are. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sandra Woodiwiss
    March 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Wonderful, and thank you for your story. It is nice to know such storys exist.

  3. Hope O’Keeffe
    March 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    One amazing side effect of this story is that after some googling I was able to find Miss Hulse’s family. Her daughters and grandaughter have been extraordinarily helpful, including providing the pictures here. Miss Hulse’s family grew up with my cousins, and I’m hoping that those old ties will now be rekindled.

  4. almoros idriss
    March 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Really, I love this story. Thank You so much Rob Casper! God bless You and your family!

  5. Suzanne Seller
    March 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    As one of her five children I remember rainy days in our tiny house. It was always over run with our friends and activities in all kinds of weather. It was mother’s belief that if she knew where her children were she did not have to worry about us. When the weather kept us in mother would sit in her corner of the living room and read as we swarmed everywhere. It was though we didn’t exist, unless, at some moment our friends would hear. “That’s not allowed in this house.”

  6. Bonnie Price
    March 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    What an important place the LOC is. Just imagine finding long-lost friends in books unable to be found elsewhere.

    And to have an inspirational visit set up by your grandmother, well, isn’t that what grandmothers are for?

    Thanks for the memory, Hope.

  7. Lois Mandelberg
    March 22, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    This is Hope’s mom. My memory of Laura Hulse was the altar tribute to her son who died in WWII. It was at the end of the hallway as you entered the house. It was fasinating to me that anyone would make a special memory place like that. My brothers and my sisters’ husbands were in the war also but they all came home safely. The death of someone close had not come into my young life yet. Books were everywhere. It was a magic house to visit. Ms. Hulse took the time with me to have tea and cookies. Aunt Mil was just across the street and my first cousins, older than I, would play with the Hulse children. Thanks for bringing these memories back Hope.

  8. Leigh Eller
    March 23, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Hope thank you. I wish we lived closer as children. This was a wounderful memory for you of time gone by. Your cousin

  9. Sunny
    July 31, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    On a whim, I googled “Come Away!” and I’m pleasantly surprised that others remember the story too.

    As a life-long horse lover, Margaret Cabell Self’s books were favorites of mine. She also wrote a humorous story, Those Smith Kids, based, I was told later, on the antics of her children.

  10. Mary Lou
    August 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Thanks, Hope. I could feel the house and the kindness of Mrs. Hulse. You tell a good story!

  11. kmead
    March 1, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    My father had Trowbridge’s A Green Field for Courage, I read it so many times the cover is threadbare, the pages dog eared and the story ingrained in my mind.

    The book is one of the only things I have of my Father’s things and far and away the most cherished.

    I wish the Google books version was available for others to enjoy.

  12. Catherine
    February 14, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    My great grandmother was Laura Hulse and my grandmother the artist of the portrait you posted, Judith Phakos Hulse. Thank you for sharing this story.

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